The problems with asking for referrals

September 13, 2011 Categories: The Art of Advising
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How to Increase Referrals

There is no shortage of guidance about asking clients for referrals. The problem is that most of the advice is bad advice. It’s bad for three reasons. First, it generally neglects the state of the current service model. Second, there is no discussion about the timing of the referral request. Third, the language is wrong.

Here’s how to increase client referrals


I want to recondition your mindset regarding referrals and emphasize the prerequisite to getting a solid referral. Plainly stated, your service model and level of engagement must be worthy of a referral. If it is not, then you will not (and should not) get them.

When your clients provide you with a referral, it is more than just an endorsement of the value you have delivered. They are willingly putting their reputation on the line for you. Clients put trusted relationships at risk by referring those they care about to you. So, before you expect referrals, make an honest assessment of whether or not you are worthy of them. You may have some work to do.


The optimal time to ask for a referral is on the heels of a client expressing delight with something that you have done. You want to capture the opportunity when they are most satisfied. It may be a result of your staff going the extra mile or you solving a significant problem of theirs. Regardless, you need to immediately capitalize on the positive vibe.


Most advisors ask for a referral with advisor-focused language. For example, “I get paid in one of three ways…” or “I am focused on growing my business by finding more clients just like you…” or “Your referrals are important to me. Please keep me in mind…” See the problem? They are focused on the advisor, not the client.

A more productive method is to capitalize on a positive vibe (timing) and respond with something like, “Thank you for your positive feedback. We have been working hard to make sure we deliver something meaningful to our clients. I’m curious, who do you care about (or who is important to you) that you think would benefit from this same process?” The subtle difference is striking.

When you get the timing right, combined with client-focused language, you’ll have the highest probability of success. With that said, remember that unless you engage your clients in a manner that delights or impresses them, there is no point in asking.

Kevin Bishopp is director of Russell Practice Management (RPM). View Kevin’s bio »

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